How growing power can lead to increased tensions:
As one country grows in power, it begins to be seen as a threat to other countries in the area. This pattern can be seen throughout history, the most famous instance being the Peloponnesian War. Tensions began to grow as Athens begin to gain power in the region. Eventually, Sparta had to declare war on Athens in order to protect their interests. The Thucydides Trap is when one power in the world begins to displace another, war is usually the outcome. The Thucydides Trap first occurred in ancient times. Today’s politics and technology makes the Thucydides Trap more complex, but it still can be observed today in many different forms. Therefore, America is actually currently in multiple traps through nuclear, economic, and military powers from other countries.
Prior to the Peloponnesian War, Athens formed the Delian League after defeating the Persians. The Delian League was essentially an alliance among many Greek city states primarily formed to continue attacking the Persian Empire. Though, Athens took control of the league which expanded their power greatly. Sparta, had their own alliances forming the Peloponnesian League. Corinth had two colonies who were at war. One gained Corinth’s aid and the other gained Athens’ support. Eventually, Sparta had to step in and gave a warning to Athens. Athens was requested to stop the embargo of Megara, drop out of the Delian League thus losing its empire, and kick out Pericles who was responsible for turning the Delian League into the Athenian Empire. If these terms were not met, the Spartans vowed to attack Athens. An ancient historian named Thucydides stated, “The real cause I consider to be the one which was formally most kept out of sight. The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon, made war inevitable” (Thuc. 1.23). Thucydides states that the growing power of Athens posed a threat to other powers in the region, most importantly Sparta and its allies.
The United States has been in control of the strongest military in the world for some time and now there are many countries that are also gaining power on the world stage. Russia is in control of the second strongest military power in the world and should our national interests conflict accidents could happen which would increase tensions between our nations. China is growing in power and should surpass our military strength in a few decades. China’s military modernization, stealing of intellectual property, and its claims of the South China Sea pose a threat to America’s interests which could also lead to war as we can see from increased tensions between our nations. Today, we are also experiencing a Thucydides Trap with nuclear power as we try to limit other countries from gaining nuclear weapons. This can be seen with increased tensions between America and North Korea as they try to get intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach America. A similar problem has arisen with Iran as they try to produce nuclear weapons and harbor terrorism.
America is in the same position as the Spartans in the Peloponnesian war as the strongest military in the region. The Thucydides Trap should be a serious concern since history often repeats itself. Should tensions arise, we might find ourselves in a war again. It is because of this reason that we should be extremely careful in our foreign affairs to prevent another major war.
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- Thucydides 1.23